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Obviously, I don't expect this. But I was thinking about it, and the importance, uniqueness, and irreplaceability of this payload is almost (?) unprecedented, especially for a transnational project. I don't really think there's an insurance claim that can cover the JWST. Certainly, there's an extensive investigation, but how would that even work? Would NASA sue Arianespace? Would everybody sue Arianespace? Would nothing happen--have launch contingencies already been agreed on? Does Israël make a public apology? Does Macron make a public apology? Does Arianespace ever sell a flight again? Do we all go home & sob?

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    $\begingroup$ The answer to the last question is yes. $\endgroup$
    – Eric G
    Dec 21, 2021 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ NASA has lost 14 infinitely more valuable and irreplaceable payloads than JWST in its history, seeing how they dealt with that might give some insight. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2021 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag Snarky, but yes. Yet, those astronauts' were solely NASA's responsibility. The congressional investigations were straightforward. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2021 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ Does Israël make a public apology? Funny seeing that in there. But the serious related point is: A lot would depend on the cause. If it is simple electrical/mechanical failure then the blame game goes on for a while but no real consequences except possibly $ moving around. If it is due to malicious actions (terrorists or a state actor not a part of the project (and there are a few)) then it could start a war. Let's hope everything goes well and JWST has many years of productive science ahead of it. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2021 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ Does Israël make a public apology? When I read this originally (and reread it many times), I couldn't understand what in the world the country of Israel had to do with this. I am sure there are some Israeli scientists somehow connected, but Israel is not, AFAIK, involved in any major way. I just read arstechnica.com/science/2021/12/… which has a reference to Arianespace Chief Executive Stéphane Israël and now this makes sense. I will edit that in. $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2021 at 23:33

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This is now, fortunately, an academic question. But here is my take at answering your questions (written as if JWST hadn't launched yet):

  1. NASA, ESA, and Arianespace would all like be involved in the failure investigation. Ariane would normally take the lead as the rocket owner. It is possible NASA and ESA could also have independent investigations in parallel.
  2. I don't expect any lawsuits unless there was wilful negligence. Rockets blow up all the time. Of course the details of what actions can be taken would be in the contract, which is not public.
  3. There would definitely be public apologies from Ariane, but they have those whenever there is a failure.
  4. I don't expect Macron would apologize
  5. Ariane would probably sell flights again ... just like after any major failure.
  6. Yes, we would all be very sad.
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